Sam Walton: The Bargain Baby is Born

From a farm boy living in the outskirts of Oklahoma to becoming the richest man in America in the 1980s and revolutionizing the way the country did business, Sam Walton’s legacy continues to live on. By the time he passed away in 1992, Sam Walton had amassed a fortune in excess of $25 billion and today, his brainchild Wal-Mart continues to bring in revenues of over $300 billion, making it the world’s largest retailer.

Born on March 29, 1918 near Kingfisher, Oklahoma, Samuel Moore Walton grew up on a farm with his brothers and parents, Thomas Gibson and Nancy Lee Walton. They moved to Missouri when his father decided that farm life was not substantial enough to support the family and he became a farm loan appraiser. While this meant that the family would constantly be on the move throughout Missouri, Walton did not let this affect him.

In his grade eight school at Shelbina, Walton became the youngest Eagle Scout in the history of the state. While attending Hickman High School, Walton excelled in both sports and academics, winning the state title as quarterback and also becoming Vice President and later President of the student government. He was also voted Most Versatile Boy at his graduation.

After high school, Walton enrolled in the University of Missouri, pursuing an economics degree in an attempt to find a way to help support his family. To pay his tuition, Walton worked as a waiter, lifeguard and newspaper delivery boy. Outside of class, Walton kept busy as an ROTC officer, member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, and as President of a Sunday school class. He was so popular with his classmates that when he graduated in 1940, he was voted permanent President of the class.

Walton knew he had an interest in commerce and aspired to attend the Wharton School of Business, but knew he could not afford it. Just three days after graduating from college, Walton found employment as a management trainee with JCPenney in Iowa. Though he was earning $75/month, he resigned in 1942 in order to be free to serve in the US military. He worked at a DuPont munitions plant in Oklahoma until he was called to join the army.

One year later, Walton was called for service with the US Army Intelligence Corps. Here, he worked as a security officer at aircraft plants and prisoner of war camps within the US. After just three years, Walton had reached the rank of Captain but felt his time with the army had come to an end.

It wasn’t until 1945, when Walton was 27 years old, that he decided to enter the retail industry. With a $20,000 loan from his father-in-law and $1,000 of his own savings, Walton purchased a Ben Franklin variety store in Newport, Arkansas. A franchise of the Butler Brothers chain, this would prove to be the beginning of his remarkable retail success and would also be the testing ground for many of the pioneering ideas that Walton would later implement in his Wal-Mart stores.

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